29 Apr 2013

Crime prevention key to policing – but ‘hard to measure’

The chief inspector of constabulary calls for a focus on crime prevention. But the government’s focus on data and budget cuts has made this more difficult, the Police Federation tells Channel 4 News.

In his first major speech in the job, Tom Winsor said that preventing crime, rather than catching criminals, should be at the heart of good policing to give the public more for their money.

Mr Winsor, the first head of the police watchdog, the HMIC, without a policing background, referred to Sir Robert Peel’s first core principles of British policing as set out in 1829, and said that a focus on prevention would provide better value for taxpayers’ money by keeping criminals out of the courts.

The Police Federation of England and Wales agreed with Mr Winsor’s comments to prioritise prevention, but that it appeared to be at odds with how the police service is being run from the top.

Police budgets are in the process of being cut, and an analysis of Home Office figures found that the budget for crime prevention epecifically, which includes street lighting, CCTV cameras and gang prevention community work, was cut by 60 per cent in the last three years.

“Politicians and the public should be mindful of the fact that preventative policing is both resource-intensive and often very difficult to measure,” said vice-chair of the Police Federation, Steve White.

“Falling budgets and an emphasis on statistics and targets have resulted in officers having less time to carry out proactive patrolling on our streets than at any point in the past.”

Resources under pressure

Mr Winsor denied he was at loggerheads with Home Secretary Theresa May, saying in a BBC interview that there was no separate budget specifically for crime prevention.

What governments measure, gets done. How do you measure the value of an officer on duty on a housing estate? Steve White, Police Federation

“There is a budget for the police and yes it is under very severe pressure and that is why we need to get higher efficiency and effectiveness out of fewer resources,” he said.

Better use of technology would assist police to do a better job with more tightened resources, Mr Winsor added. In some places it is “slow and patchy” and “quite far behind where it could be,” he added in a speech to the Royal United Services Institute.


However crime prevention is also at odds with the government’s preference for target-driven policies as it is difficult to measure and assess police progress, said Mr White.

“What governments measure, gets done,” he told Channel 4 News.

“How do you measure the value of an officer on duty on a housing estate? How do you measure the value of prevention?”

A former rail regulator and lawyer, Mr Winsor also recommended focusing on crime hotspots as a way to prevent crime. He said the test of the success of the police should be the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible presence of police in dealing with it.

Martin Innes from the Universities’ Police Science Institute welcomed the return to a focus on prevention, and told Channel 4 News he was “optimistic” about Mr Winsor’s recommendations being put into practice.